Continuing our series of short fiction set in, or influenced by London. This week's story is by 12 year-old Jessica Nicol.
The blood trickled down my leg. My skinny arms, covered in bruises, pulled myself up from the cold, hard ground where I lay. I tilted my face up. The building was a blurry assortment of colourful patterns, despite the fact that, in reality, it was a dismal grey slab of concrete. I was hallucinating, badly. I shook myself and blinked as everything began to focus and become clearer.
The Flats. That's what everyone called it. A block of council flats in Southwark, covered in graffiti.
I carried on walking, ignoring the gash on my knee. The amount of pain I have been through before; this is nothing. I’m so weak, I need food, I need water. My tongue was bone dry and felt like leather. My stomach was an empty, aching pit. The walk to the main door seemed endless. I pressed the button to buzz myself in.
“You’re late,” wheezed an all too familiar voice over the intercom; my father.
“I know. I'm sorry,” I reply with all the courage I can muster. I hate how weak and feeble I sound. I hear the click and I push against the metal door that’s almost too heavy. I step inside the lift, trying to ignore the stench of urine. The lift escalates, creaking as if about to break but it doesn't and I walk along the long corridor, my trainers making a soft tapping sound against the filthy tiles. The air thick with dirty fingers of cigarettes makes me cough but I don’t slow down. I'm already late.
I finally reach the end of the hallway and my knuckles rap against the wood of the door. No reply. I slip the key into the lock and walk inside.
“Hello?” I turn around and close the front door with a click. In a split second, all the wind from my lungs escapes me and a sharp pain in the centre of my back spreads through my body as the ground rushes towards me.
When I wake up, Father is standing over me. The ice in his eyes makes me shiver. “Ah. You’re awake.” He starts coughing and spluttering.
“Guess smoking finally got you, darling.” I shifted my bodyweight to see my stepmother, Sara stalking over to me, her stilettos clicking against the floor. Her hair was tortured into a Marilyn Monroe style. She pressed her lips to his. Imagine how much you have to love someone to forgive the fact that they are a demon from hell?
“What did she do this time?” Sara grins at my pain. I look at her and all I can think about is how the Botox must have filled the space where her heart is supposed to be. “She was late,” Father replied as Sara tutted and left the room.
His steel capped boots dug into my ribs. “Don’t do it again.” Then he left too. I lifted my shirt up to see a red, crescent shaped mark that will definitely bruise. I can almost see my ribs; a consequence of Sara calling me fat for years. I crawled into my room that was more like a storage closet. The room was piled high with cardboard boxes overflowing with lost memories. I crept over to the dirty mattress, pulled the tattered blanket over my shoulder and cried myself to sleep.
My alarm wakes me up; I pound the button in frustration but feel no better. My feet touch the ground as I sling my bag over my shoulder. I slink across to the front door, open it as quietly as I can and jog down the corridor, tying my light, hazelnut brown hair into a knot. I press the button for the lift then, fed up with waiting, run down the stairs. I don’t have time for waiting.
At the exit, seeing the red bus rolling around the corner, I slip on my jacket and sprint for the bus stop. I make it just in time, the bus slows to a halt and the door smoothly slides open. I dig some coins out of my pockets and let them clatter against the plastic disc. Avoiding eye contact, I ease into the nearest seat and wait for the woman’s voice to robotically read out my stop over the rolling sound of abandoned bottles and cans and the crinkling of sweet wrappers and crisp packets.
When she does, I ring the bell and hop off. I walk to the towering wooden gates that read “City of London Secondary School” in big metal letters that had lost their polished shine years ago. I pause at the gate then spin around. I see my classmates shuffling in like zombies, a mess of warm bodies heaving and lurching towards the entrance.
One girl catches my eye. Sophie Clarkson. Her pale skin plastered with orange paint and her bright blue eyes hidden by long fake eyelashes clotted with mascara. Her lips pink and glossy, so much so that her hair sticks to them, the fake blonde hair that used to be a natural golden colour that shimmered in the sunlight. I feel a burning hatred towards her. Is that all anyone can ever aspire to be? Clumped make-up and glossy lips?
I turn around and wander aimlessly along the streets, kicking aside empty cans. I hear Big Ben chime in the distance and count the chimes silently. Nine o'clock. My foot steps on something soft; a newspaper. I squat down as the headline shouts out at me ‘British teenager found in Syria.’
The article mesmerises me. A young girl, just like me, no future, no family, no hope suddenly had some.
I could be her; someone memorable.
I'm sick of being hurt.
I'm sick of crying myself to sleep.
I'm sick of faking a smile.
I'm sick of feeling this way.
I'm sick of being a nobody.
I'm sick of being me.
I'm going to be someone else.
Copyright, Jessica Nicol. Photo by Gary Kinsman via the Londonist Flickr pool.
We’re still after your stories, which you should send to firstname.lastname@example.org. Entries must be no more than 1,000 words, and must be set in London, or strongly inspired by the city. Full details here.
We’re also now looking for fairy tales of modern London in partnership with the British Academy’s Literature Week.
Previously in this series
- The Lion: Something’s up in Trafalgar Square.
- Lyndon The Greatest Thief in London: A light fingered robber meets the Queen.
- Beyond the Central Line: Notting Hill Gate looks different today...
General London fiction
- Mark: A struggling actor becomes a hero of the people.
- The Guardian of Travellers: Victoria Coach Station passengers take the advice of a sage.
- Graphic Novels: A celebrated novelist finds inspiration in Shoreditch Library.
London at Night
- The Soho Nocturnes: Sebastian Groes tries to shatter the concrete dream that is London.
- The Station Clock: Peter Watson takes a slow walk to Euston.
- Asparagus and Syrian Gold: A guy on a blind date takes a risk… but will it pay off?
- The Race: Susanna James races against the dying of the light.
- Sirens of the Tideway: Emily Williams recounts a ghostly police chase.
- Mark: A struggling actor becomes a hero of the people.
Christmas in London
- The Ghost of Christmas Replete: David Croser shares a Christmas tale set in the bleak midwinter.
- Keep the Change: Lee Hamblin takes a sneaky taxi ride.
- Night Bus Dreams: Michelle Surtees-Myers is picked up by an enchanted night bus.
- The Patient Banker: Tom Dean has a visitor call in at a houseboat.
- An Afternoon Some Time Ago: Nathan Good takes a nostalgic ride on the London Eye.
- Easy Pickings: Kay Seeley is being vigilant on the South Bank.
- Stepping Stones: Alison Chandler goes on a night walk.
- One Summer in London: Angela M. Rodriguez steals a very personal item and then wears it at Notting Hill Carnival.
- Blackout on Fen Street: Seth Insua wishes away the city.
- The Man From BEER: Which bits of London would you delete? By David Ritchie.
- London Falls: Liz Hedgecock unleashes a digital wipeout on the city.
- They Walked: Adam MacLean ponders what would happen if London’s building just got up and left.
- The Wallbuilder: A great wall was built around London, not everyone was happy, by Jonathon Dean.
- Tastes Like Chicken: Glen Delaney retreats inside London’s oldest fortress.
- The Conqueror: Rebecca Sams filches a legendary London object.
- The Busker Ascends: Darren Lee brings plague to Leicester Square.
- Amelie: Narges Rashidi considers the interactions of three people on a District Line tube.
- Shelter Drawings: Stuart Snelson’s tale of a mysterious Circle Line artist.
- Tracks and Albums: Richard Lakin attracts the attentions of the British Transport Police.
- Seeing Red: Anthony Fitzgerald on the woes of a cab driver.
- Instant Karma on the 263 to North Finchley: one seat left on the bus. Next to you. Raving drunk gets on. By Ronnie Capaldi.
- The Sender of Second Chances: Anthea Morrison records a chance encounter on a bus.
- Two Four Eight: Lance V Ramsay envisions an Orwellian dystopia in the lingo of future London.
- Old Nichol: Jill Fricker evokes the woes of the old East End.
- Clissar: Grazia Brunello dips into the future of north London, through a glass darkly.
- Harvest Festival: A spooky Halloween tale in the London suburbs by Helen Craig.
- Ordinary Days in London: Madelaine Hills on a Docklands disturbance.
- Bishopsgate: Oliver Zarandi visits the site of a bomb.
- Sirens Of The Tideway: Emily Williams recounts a ghostly police chase.
- The Perfect Gift: A Christmas fairy tale in which London’s statues come to life, by Katherine Wheston.
- The City Inside: Tom Butler has some curious metropolitan anatomy.
- Jazz Code and the Tube: The ambivalence of dating, by Jenny Mackenzie.
- A Free Man: Melanie White’s flash fiction piece considers a recently single guy at a bachelor party.
- Clean Living London: Ursula Dewey rolls her sleeves up for some housework.
- Swipe Right: Does Tinder have the answers? By Heidi Scherz
- The Writer and the Dancer: Close encounter at a flat party by Vincent Wood.
- St Peter’s Gate, Knightsbridge: A nocturnal romance at closing time, by Theo Klay
- First: A romance begins inside a London gay club. By Lance Middleton.
- Natural Disasters: Can you find love at the supermarket checkout, when your customer’s buying porn? Yoel Noorali enquires.
- NO! SUSHI: A relationship breaks down during a Japanese leaving party, by Clare Kane.
- Compatibility: Stephen Lynch conjures the awkwardness of flat hunting.
- An Extract From the Diary of Kay Richardson, Actor: The surreal tribulations of a washed-up London thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor: More from the feckless thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor (Part 2): Our debauched hero tussles with mannequins.
- You Were Not In When We Called: A Christmas tale from Megan Toogood.
- The Do: Alan Fisher gets party phobia.
- Direction: Kevin Acott goes on a time-shifting pub crawl.
- RTA: Ryan Cartwright is involved in a traffic accident where all is not what it seems.
- Vegan Pigeon Eater: Rae Chambers sees a south London cafe get an unwelcome visitor.